#16 Aggies host Kansas State

The second-place Aggies enter the weekend 1.5 games behind Nebraska and are looking to gain ground this weekend against Kansas State. Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes has the low down on this weekend's series, and what to expect if you're heading out to Olsen Field this weekend.

Big 12 baseball returns to Aggieland this weekend, as the Kansas State Wildcats come to meet the Texas A&M Aggies (23-6, 6-3). First pitch on Friday and Saturday will be at 6:30 PM, while Sunday's finale has been moved to Noon.

A&M's 6-3 conference mark currently lands them in a virtual tie for second place with Missouri (4-2), just a game ahead of fourth place Texas (5-4) and 1.5 behind league leader Nebraska (7-1-1). That mark is presently laudable, but the scheduling of remaining conference agmes make this series against ninth place Kansas State even more pivotal. A&M's final three Big 12 tilts come against the aforementioned Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas, while the KSU series starts a nine-game stretch against conference foes that currently combine for a 7-13-1 record. Though A&M may be as salty as those top teams, making a legitimate conference title run is heavily dependent upon maximizing wins against teams struggling in conference play.

Despite that schedule backload, A&M still has the benefit of home field advantage. 2008 is a more heavily home weighted conference year, plus six of the first nine conference games have taken place away from the friendly confines of Olsen Field. That leaves 18 conference games to go, with 12 of them in front of the best fans in college baseball.

Enter those Kansas State Wildcats, who bring an overall 15-12 record into College Station. A&M leads the lifetime series 30-8-1, including a 26-7-1 mark in Big 12 play. KSU has won just one series against A&M, the 2005 series in Manhattan, and has not won a game in College Station since game one of the '04 series.

The Wildcats bring an interesting stat-set into play this weekend, featuring a very low batting average but the highest stolen base count in the Big 12. The overall Wildcat ERA is low, due mainly to a solid starting rotation, but the bullpen stats are very suspect.

K-State's offense is heating a meager .247 for the season, a number that drops all the way to .207 against the Big 12. Just 71 of their 219 hits have gone for extra bases (.373 SLG), and the strike out much more frequently than they take free passes (1.48:1 K to BB, .368 OBP). The slugging and on-base marks plummet to .298 and .312 in league play.

When those runners do make it to base, you can count on them moving around. Their 65 stolen bases outpace even the Aggies, but just six of those have come in conference play. A&M should anticipate seeing some small ball (KSU averages one sac-bunt per game), but will also see some long swings as the K to BB ratio jumped to 2.22:1 against the league.

Just two Wildcats, Dane Yelovich (.302-0-3, .267-0-0) and Carter Jurica (.300-3-9, .083-0-1) bat above .300 overall. Rob Vaughn (.246-0-4, .375-0-1) and Adam Muenster (.299-0-8, .313-0-2) are the only two that top that mark in league play. Nate Teabrink (.295-6-23, .300-3-3) and Justin Bloxom (.274-5-22, .143-0-1) will be the primary power sources in the middle of their line-up.

While many offensive stats are certainly below par, starting pitching has been quite successful for KSU. Their three starters combine for just a 2.04 ERA but are far from overpowering (just 52 combined strikeouts). Both of those stats hold true in Big 12 play as well (2.04 ERA in 39.2 innings, but just 22 Ks).

A large key for A&M will be getting to those starters and, of course, getting them out of the game. Those three have thrown 72% of KSU's innings in Big 12 play, and the rest of the bullpen combines for a rough 11.15 ERA against the same competition. Big 12 foes are batting just .201 against those starters, but .412 against the pen. Just three KSU relievers have appeared in more than one Big 12 contest thus far. Getting past that front line and to the statistically woeful and inexperienced bullpen can lead A&M to a series victory that they must have.

A&M enters the weekend hitting .311 overall and averaging 7.8 runs per contest. While the pressure offense has produced fewer stolen bases this year, the Aggies have made up for it with, top to bottom, superior power numbers to years past (.476 slugging). Dane Carter (.434-5-31, .324-2-10) and Jose Duran (.383-2-27, .488-0-8) continue to pace A&M in most offensive categories, but a tremendous late surge from Darby Brown (.323-7-31, .474-3-17) of .395-7-28 with a .750 slugging mark has made the entire middle of the Aggie line-up formidable. Throw in Brian Ruggiano's comparatively quiet .337-2-15 and Luke Anders .329-4-20, and the 3-through-7 spots in the A&M order are one of the toughest in the country. Kyle Colligan has rode a late run all the way to a .304-2-13 mark from the leadoff spot, while #2 hitter Blake Stouffer (.218-2-20, 5 game hitting streak) has found a way to generate runs while still having a statistically rough year.

Should A&M find itself in a tight late inning contest, which is likely, Travis Starling (4-0, 6 SVs, 0.49 ERA, 23 K, 4 BB in 18.1 IP, .209 BAA) has been phenomenal and is making a run at both the A&M record book and larger national honors for his closing performances.

Projected Weekend Starters

Brooks Raley (4-0, 3.37 ERA, 33 K, 8 BB in 34.2 IP) vs Brad Hutt (3-2, 2.25 ERA, 17 K, 9 BB in 48 IP)
Barret Loux (1-1, 4.78 ERA, 34 K, 14 BB in 32 IP) vs Justin Murray (2-0, 1.62 ERA, 17 K, 8 BB in 33.1 IP)
A&M TBD vs Lance Hoge (1-1, 2.19 ERA, 18 K, 4 BB in 24.2 IP)

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